Visit the house where Jungle Book was born
The new live action version of Jungle Book is out in cinemas this week – see the trailer here. Whether it will be anywhere near as heart-warming with CGI remains to be seen but it’s bound to rekindle a love affair with the story, and here in Sussex we have the very place where it was written – Rudyard Kipling’s former home, Bateman’s at Burwash.
I must admit my Kipling literary knowledge mainly dates back to the Just So stories and parts of Jungle Book like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi that I was read at school, though this is on its way to being rectified by some purchases in the Bateman’s gift shop. This didn’t matter on my visit however because the home is a lovely place in itself.
Kipling wrote his most famous books and poems at Batemans. He lived there with his family from 1902 to his death in 1936 but the house itself was built way back in 1634 just a couple of decades after Shakespeare was flexing his quill. Kipling’s connections with India, where he was born, mean there are all sorts of interesting knick-knacks and decorations around the house. In one cabinet is the stamp for the Indian swastika he used to have printed on the cover of his books until the Nazis appropriated the symbol.
With the help of surviving family members Batemans was refurnished as closely as possible to Kipling’s time – in fact I was told 99% of what you see in his study was from the original. And what a study it is…
I covet this workspace…
OK, perhaps not the dead wolverine on the floor…
Another room has a wireless adapted to play Ralph Fiennes reading Kipling extracts, including THAT poem.
If… you go (and go you should) make sure you chat to the National Trust volunteers in each room who are a mine of anecdotal information. For instance, I learned the name Rudyard is not Indian as I had supposed but comes from the lake in Staffordshire where his parents met – ahh. Less romantically, I once worked with someone who was named Kaa after the sneaky snake in Jungle Book…
There are some Kipling first editions in the reception room and a screen in the kitchen showing rare film footage of the man himself making a speech.
Upstairs is a mini exhibition with some interesting writing related treasures including his daughter’s original alphabet necklace that inspired a Just So story.
Family correspondence includes the affectionately jokey letters between Rudyard and his son, John, that are particularly moving when you learn he was killed aged 18 in World War One.
If you’re visiting with children then the pay off is the garden, mill and huge grounds (33 acres) where they can let off steam, which no doubt now look a lot more cheery than the wintery day I visited.
You can also take ‘Puck’s Walk’ based on Puck of Pook’s Hill which was set in the surrounding area.
There’s a café with great looking cakes (I abstained only because I was off out for dinner) and you can picnic in the gardens.
There are usually trails during the school holidays. At other times there are activity sheets for children for the house itself and enough bits and bobs to catch their attention. On my visit a toddler was asking lots of questions about the knick-knacks and rug in the study. There are also various reliefs of Mowgli created by Rudyard’s artist father…
… and a couple of hidden surprises.
Get them to ask about the hidey hole in the room with the gorgeous painted panelling
Apparently 17th century men used to hang out there drinking after dinner and piss in a communal pot then hide it in that hole – the charmers. Children will probably also enjoy, as I did, hearing the wind up Edison wax cyclinder gramophone.
…and seeing Kipling’s vintage Rolls (he was a very early adopter of the motor car) which comes with recorded anecdotes of his various motoring breakdowns like ‘… ‘Jane’ disembowled on the village green at Ditchling….’
The village of Burwash itself has more Kipling connections, including his son’s name on the war memorial. Elsewhere in the area, pretty Ticehurst (see my review of the quirky Bell Inn here) is close by, Hastings is about 15 miles away or, if you’re a super organised type, you could squeeze in Bodiam Castle on the same day.